The Wayfarer saga
Science fiction is often child of its own times. So it's no suprise that modern sci-fi tells a lot of dark and bleak stories: we don't exactly live in the most hope-inspiring times, do we? There's nothing wrong with this, of course. I'm a big fan of dark, realistic sci-fi. At the moment I'm 2/3 through the Three bodies problem trilogy by Liu Cixin, which provides one of the darkest answer to the Fermi paradox. An answer that should inspire humanity to hide under a rock or something. And I'm loving all of it. But I needed a break from all this bleakness.
Becky Chambers to the rescue. Without a doubt, her sci-fi is one of the more optimistic I've ever read. Which is surprising, since she's such a young author, still at the beginning of her (very promising) career.
Optimism can easily trespass into naiveness, if not carefully handled. Is this the case for the Wayfarer saga? To answer this, let's take a look at the universe BC created in her novels. In a not-so-distant future, humanity is part of a vast and powerful galactic community. A small part. A tiny, almost meaningless part. We were accepted into the community almost for pity's sake. We are the galactic beggars.
Wait, what? Vonblubba, where the hell is optimism in all of this? In people, that's where. Almost every character in Becky Chamber's novel is, deep down, a good person. The difficult situation humanity has to endure is not a source of conflict, but a push toward sympathy for fellow humans (and not only humans). We all have something to learn from this, don't we?
But let's take a closer look to the three (at the moment of writing) novels in the Wayfarer saga.
If you can remember the title, the hard part is done.
We've got a firefly-like, mixed-races crew, barely making a living from tunneling wormholes across spacetime. It may sound cool, but it's basically asphalt paving: blue-collar work.
The main focus are interpersonal relations: every character works very hard to overcome the huge cultural differences that separate him/her from other people in his/her life (and mostly succeeds). Much care is dedicated to the social aspects of the various alien races: every new piece introduced in each chapter fits nicely in the overall picture, which feels detailed and vivid.
I can wait for the galaxy outside to get a little kinder.
Sometimes this novel feels more like a collection of short stories, but that does not compromise the final result, which is an engaging sci-fi space opera with a main focus on what it would mean (on a social basis) to have a multi-species galactic community.
After a successful debut novel, most authors would have taken the safest and easier way: keep the same set of characters and write more of the same. Well, not Becky Chambers. She chose to write an entirely different story, with entirely different characters. And yet, the result is a novel at least as good as its predecessor. To me, if you can pull something like this off, it means that you're a fully accomplished writer.
We follow Lovelace (the Wayfarer's Artifical Intelligence) and Pepper (a minor character in the first novel) through their search for meaning.
Life dealt both of them a very bad hand, the kind of hand that would normally make you cynic and cold-blooded. And what do they do when they meet? They try to take advatage of each other? They steal, cheat and lie their way, squeezing every last drop of blood form the other? Of course not. They HELP EACH OTHER OUT in every possible, conceivable way. It's quite moving, honestly.
Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we're doing here. So, the easiest way to stare reality in the face and not utterly lose your shit is to believe that you have control over it. If you believe you have control, then you believe you're at the top. And if you're at the top, then people who aren't like you... well, they've got to be somewhere lower, right? Every species does this. Does it again and again and again. Doesn't matter if they do it to themselves, or another species, or someone they created.
Becky Chambers is reallly really good at depicting interpersonal relationships, empathy, small communities, people who care about each other. And the fact that this feels so refreshing (and maybe just a little naive) is probably not a good thing: if we are not used to see people that care deeply about each other (and about strangers too), maybe the world we live in has a few problems it better face sooner rather than later.
She did it again: a new set of characters and a new setting. This time we see life in the Exodus Fleet, which left Sol System when Earth became inhabitable, leaving many behind, and causing the greatest schism in the history of mankind. Exodus Fleet is now more a memorial than an actual fleet, since those left behind have been rescued by the galactic community before it was too late.
From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope.
- Exodan proverb
This time it takes a wile for the story to really get going, mainly because there are many apparently unrelated characters/storylines. But once you get to know them all, you can't put the book down.
The universe of the Wayfarer saga feels more real and alive with each new novel. And there's a thing that really had me thinking: in this universe, earth and humans count almost for nothing from a political/economical point of view. We are the poor african country of the galactic community, and we are well aware of it. But you know what? Humanity in this universe is far better than humanity in real life, 2019. There's a strong sense of community and mutual support that bounds every human being in the galaxy, maybe born from need and awareness of our small place in the universe. I just love this.